Saint Ignatius High School

Who Really is a Collegiate Student-Athlete?

The world of top-tier collegiate athletics has evolved to emphasize one half of the term "student-athlete"--and it's not the half that universities were created for. Yet a recent Patriot League championship game highlighted the caliber of student-athletes who have struck the right balance.

When I read the crawl across the bottom of the screen as I was watching the Patriot League men’s basketball final I couldn’t help laughing out loud.  It read that 50 people were being indicted as the result of an FBI investigation into a sports-related college admissions scandal.  My assumption, which was quickly proven wrong, was that this was related to the news that came out last year right before the NCAA men’s basketball tournament that coaches, agents and apparel companies were involved with something that the feds like to call bribery.

As juicy a story as that was (is?) it pales in comparison with the one that was (is) breaking involving wealthy, and seemingly famous, parents and so-called “minor” sports programs at a handful (for now) of the most elite universities in the country.

When I later heard that several Stanford grads were going to file a suit against the university because they felt that their degree had been cheapened I again had to laugh.  Had this recent revelation not been made, these alums of Leland Stanford Junior University would still be blissfully unaware of the fact that the train they want to ride left the station a long time ago.

The incredible amounts of money and prestige associated with Division I athletic success have tainted college sports and the universities that sponsor them for about a century now, and only the most na├»ve – seemingly including some Stanford grads – believe that their school is immune.  Those who think that Stanford has won the NACDA Director’s Cup (awarded to the school with the best overall sports program) for the past 24 years by admitting athletes under the same standards as they do for “regular” students (95 percent rejection rate) should look into buying a bridge in Brooklyn, New York.

This latest scandal certainly puts a new spin on the term student-athlete by offering us a look at a new variant of the species: the student-athlete who is not an athlete, and isn’t much of a student either.  Considering that the term was created by the NCAA in the 1950s as a legal dodge, it seems fitting that it was used now by families who wanted to dodge the normal admissions process.

Which brings me back to the Patriot League championship game between Bucknell and Colgate – two very prestigious universities who have between them won a total of 2 NCAA men’s basketball tournament games.  It is success like this that has kept these two schools and their comrades in the Patriot League under the radar of both kinds of student-athlete scandals.  The caliber of student-athlete that this league attracts can best be seen by looking at someone like Adonal Foyle who graduated from Colgate magna cum laude with a degree in history before starting his 13 year NBA career.

As I found out by reading the immensely entertaining and informative The Last Amateurs by acclaimed sports writer John Feinstein, Adonal Foyle is typical of the student-athletes who compete in the Patriot League.  To be clear, the NBA career is an anomaly, but the magna cum laude isn’t.  Feinstein’s book is filled with great stories about similar young men who went to college to get an education and play some basketball – in that order.

Many college athletes sneak into a back door propped open by a coach, while other faux-athletes pay someone to pick the lock.  It is refreshing to watch – and root for – those who proudly enter through the front door and walk out four years later with a well-earned degree.  I think a good name for those people would be student-athletes. Too bad the name’s already taken.